By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, is dangerously close to famine as a result of food insecurity, weak governance and armed conflict, according to Nancy Lindborg, assistant administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA) at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
She made the shocking revelation at a press briefing Monday during the U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit. The historic gathering of heads of state and top government officials from 51 African nations, the largest of its kind to be hosted by a United States president.
Lindborg said that climate change and armed conflict can undermine the development of fragile nations and keep vulnerable communities in a state of perpetual crisis.
“When you have governments that are not accountable to their people, that are marginalized, that are weak, that are not providing services to their people, you have greater for potential conflict,” she said.
Following vicious civil war between the north and the south that spanned decades, the country split in 2011 and South Sudan was born. Peace in the south didn’t last long. Less than three years later, violence exploded in the young nation in December 2013, after South Sudanese President Salva Kiir claimed that Vice President Riek Machar planned to force him out of the government.
The United States has pledged $456 million since December working through the United Nations and experienced non-profit groups on the ground. The funds paid for food, medical care, fishing rods and other aid supplies.
Lindborg said that the challenge is making sure that aid workers have access to the people that need them the most. When either the government or the opposition keeps trucks from rolling or airplanes from flying, that assistance is delayed.
“It is the result of the political leadership, both the government and the opposition, choosing political gain over the welfare of their people,” said Lindborg.
Lindborg said that, in less severe conditions, aid workers stockpile food and supplies in hard to reach areas across the region, before the rainy season starts and roads become too treacherous to travel.
“We were not able to do that this year, because of the fighting and the lack of access,” said Lindborg. “The most urgent thing is for the leadership of [South Sudanese] President Kiir and the opposition to choose peace and to use the negotiation process to find a way forward that puts that nation back on a pathway of peace and development that they fought very hard for and the South Sudanese people deserve for that mission to be realized.”
Like South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR) internal fighting and extreme weather have compounded the need for international humanitarian aid.
According to a July 2014 report by Amnesty International, “members of the mostly Christian Anti-Balaka and mainly Muslim Séléka” have committed serious human rights violations and abuses in CAR.
“Since December 2013, deliberate large-scale killings of civilians, including women and children, have continued unabated, sometimes followed by mutilation, dismembering and burning of the bodies. Acts of cannibalism have also been reported,” stated the report. “Other crimes taking place in the country include torture, enforced disappearances, recruitment and use of children, rape and other forms of sexual violence, looting, demolition and burning of houses, villages and places of worship, such as mosques and churches, as well as the forced displacement of populations.”
Lindborg said that there is a critical need for truly sustained peace and reconciliation in Central Africa, where nearly half the country is in need of critical assistance and humanitarian aid. The U.S. pledged $118 million to CAR and the surrounding region for security and community-based peace building and reconciliation groups.
Lindborg praised government officials in Sierra Leone for making incredible efforts to move away from civil war and the violence that ripped that country apart from 1991-2002.
“They have slowly put the country on the pathway to development,” said Lindborg she said that Sierra Leone’s leaders focused on freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the media and on decreasing the number of political prisoners held in the country.
“It’s really been an effort in providing inclusive, effective and legitimate governance that has been key,” explained Lindborg. “It provides a vision and a template that is inspiring for all of us.”
During the U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit, USAID and The Rockefeller Foundation committed $100 million to the Global Resilience Partnership, “new model for solving the complex and interrelated challenges of the 21st century such as persistent and often extreme poverty, food insecurity, and climate shocks,” in Africa and Asia, according to a press release on the initiative.
The project includes a “Resilience Challenge,” aimed at bringing ground-breaking and creative solutions to bear on problems facing Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and South and Southeast Asia.
“Disasters and shocks pose an unparalleled threat to the world’s most vulnerable communities and hamstring the global humanitarian response,” said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah in the press release. “This new bold partnership will help the global community pivot from being reactive in the wake of disaster to driving evidence-based investments that enable cities, communities, and households to better manage and adapt to inevitable shocks.